Exploring senior Erica Liu’s journey as a violinist

Eshika Tiwari

ET: Hi, everyone, my name is Eshika Tiwari, and today I’ll be featuring Erica Liu about her experience as a violinist. Liu has played violin ever since she was six and throughout the years, she has made progress by learning and earning a position of Concertmaster in both her school orchestra and her orchestra outside of school called California Youth Symphony Senior Orchestra.

ET: How did you start playing violin?

EL: My older sister, who’s seven years older than me, started playing the piano before I was born, so I was kind of born into a “musical family,” even though it’s just her playing. So, I started playing piano when I was around four. I eventually quit, but my parents thought that it would be a good way for me to go out into the world and get to meet fellow musicians because I was a very, very shy kid and they wanted me to be able to, I guess, talk with people about something that I’m interested in, which is music.

ET: You said there were highs and lows. What were some lows about it?

EL: I feel some of the biggest lows come with the times of pressure especially. I’d say a big issue I dealt with was stage fright and being on stage, and there’s a couple of pretty bad memories related to that where [I’m] under pressure onstage. I kind of just blanked out and made some really, really big mistakes. But I feel from all of those experiences, from each of them, I’ve learned a lot, and so now, even though stage fright is obviously always still there — I feel it’s a big issue for a lot of people — I definitely think I’ve gotten better at mitigating that and still being able to perform under pressure.

ET: Is there anything else that you’ve [overcome] while playing the violin?

EL: I feel like in general, violin has been something that has really challenged me and kind of forced me to grow in a lot of different ways, both as a person and as a musician. I feel like just the biggest trend throughout it has been being strict on myself when practicing and making sure that everything that I’m not happy with in my music gets fixed. I would definitely say that when I was younger, even in the beginning of high school, I feel like I was pretty lax on myself, and so that caused me not to improve as much. I feel like in the past year, I’ve improved quite a bit just from being harsher on myself and practicing with that mindset.

ET: Have you won any awards [for] playing the violin?

Liu played a solo at the California Youth Symphony Season Finale concert, playing “Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 5” on May 7, 2023 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Erica Liu

EL: I’ve won a few. Probably one of the most recent ones was the California Symphony graduating senior competition. And so just around I think a month ago, I got to play my concerto with my orchestra, which was a really nice experience because it was kind of a peak of my musical career and in my career with the California Symphony, so it’s a really nice way to cap it off.

ET: What are your goals for playing this instrument in the future?

EL: Although I don’t see myself going into a career with this instrument, I definitely want to keep it in my life. I really don’t want it to fade out completely. And so I feel like throughout college, I’ll definitely participate in the orchestras and chamber groups. And I guess even into my adult life, just keeping it as something that I can enjoy occasionally — I just don’t want to lose it completely.

ET: How do your parents and friends support you throughout this journey of playing violin?

EL: My parents have definitely been a huge support, obviously, both financially in terms of lessons and instrument [and] everything, but also they have definitely been the ones to push me to practice when I’m not feeling it and to keep on improving, especially when I was younger and building up the fundamentals. It’s definitely very difficult when you’re younger to have the patience to slow down and work on it, and so my parents were definitely there. Although I didn’t like it at the moment, they were definitely there to push me in the right direction and make sure that I was improving when I didn’t want to. My friends have also been a huge support, even though — oh, first of all, there’s friends from school and then there’s friends from music. I’ve definitely met so many people from music through orchestra and chamber groups that are 100% the highlight of my weeks and my days. Rehearsals are definitely very, very fond memories for me usually. My friends at school are my support in every aspect, and so they’re there to cheer me on during my performance and I’m also grateful for that. Yeah, in general, I think I do come from a very supportive environment, and through the friends I’ve made through music itself, it’s definitely a feedback loop where I enjoy [music] more and more because of the people and because I enjoy more I meet more people.

ET: What are some of your favorite memories playing the violin?

EL: Favorite memories? I think one of my top moments was when I went with the California Symphony last summer on tour to Europe. That was definitely a big plus because even though all of us were absolutely exhausted by the end, it was such fond memories to be able to play in such special and really beautiful halls and also just to have all this extra time to explore the cities with the friends I made through music. 

Photo courtesy of Erica Liu

ET: How do you overcome challenges whether it’s as a soloist or as a group playing with an orchestra?

EL: As a soloist, I think my private teacher has been a huge support for me to overcome the challenges I have when playing the violin, in terms of more mental obstacles, in terms of improving, and sometimes [when] I reach a plateau in improving, I guess my parents and friends are definitely there to support me, especially my music friends, because they’ve all gone through the same thing. There’s a lot of external forces that helped me overcome my challenges. And in that, I think I’ve also developed internal methods to overcome the challenges and have more self-discipline.

ET: What does playing the violin mean to you?

EL: I feel it means a lot of different things to me. I guess at the basis, it’s just something that makes me happy. It’s music — everyone says that music is a universal language. And as cheesy as that is, it’s the truth. And so I guess more than anything, music has meant a very big community for me. And I’m really grateful for all the people I’ve met through it. I guess on top of that, it is one of my biggest ways that I can challenge myself and force myself to, I don’t know, have more self-discipline.

ET: How has it changed or impacted you?

EL: OK, first of all, music is something that both stresses me out and makes me really happy. But the happiness comes through the stress kind of and so it’s kind of just become this, this constant force in my life. It’s always there and it’s something that I can turn to if I want some enjoyment, or if I just want to challenge myself. I think I’ve just gotten used to it in my life at this point. It’s just something that I don’t — it seems so strange for me to lose it if I were ever to lose it.